Erwin Ma

Erwin Ma

South Surrey pet project breeding success

Four-legged friends are helping kids at Semiahmoo Library boost their reading skills.

At first glance, Breena, Lola and Yuki don’t appear to do a whole lot at the Semiahmoo Library on Thursday afternoons.

But for the children who read to them, the canine trio are the calming influence that make the words flow smoother with every passing week.

“It’s very successful, I see kids coming back and back and they are getting better and better,” said Eva Hompoth, a White Rock resident who volunteers with her shepherd/husky/wolf Lola in the Paws 4 Stories program.

“You go there, and you cannot do anything but smile.”

The St. John Ambulance program – which the library dubs ‘Dog Tales‘ – provides certified therapy dogs that have been evaluated as suitable ‘tutors’ for children. Their non-judgmental presence – they don’t correct grammar, or pronunciation, nor make any assumptions on the choice of book – has been found to help young children improve their reading skills.

By simply being there, oftentimes with their heads resting on their students’ laps, the dogs boost  confidence and reduce stress the children may be feeling over the task.

Diego Viruete, Lola and Eva Hompoth

Jaime Viruete said he could see immediately that Lola put his son, Diego, at ease. The seven-year-olddidn’t hesitate to plunk down and share Robert Munsch’s Smelly Socks with the gentle listener.

“It was nice, and it was a cute dog,” Diego said after.

Viruete said his son is a good reader, but needs practice and can be a bit shy about reading in front of people. With Lola, “he doesn’t get judged or criticized.”

“Right away, he was comfortable,” he said.

Su Kim brought her daughter, Katie, to Dog Tales so the eight-year-old could practise her English.

Born in Korea, Katie has only lived in Canada for two years, said Kim, who graduated from Semiahmoo Secondary then spent 15 years in Korea.

“She’s just starting to learn how to read,” said Kim. “She was so eager to go read to a dog.”

Katie spent her time Thursday reading David Stein’s I’m My Own Dog to Breena, a four-year-old Havanese who volunteers with owner Heidi Bromley.

Brothers Nicko and Sebastian have made Thursday afternoons at the library a habit for the past three weeks. Their mom, Adriana Massbie, said the boys love to read and adore dogs, so the program offers the best of both worlds.

“They connect with the dogs,” Massbie said. “I like the fact that they have the opportunity to read to someone else and not just me or by themselves.”

Massbie noted the reading program also helps Nicko come out of his shell. He’s typically “pretty shy,” she said.

“But when he’s here, he has no problem.”

During the most recent session – each lasts about 15 minutes – the seven-year-old read Show and Tell by Robert Munsch to Breena. He said after that he likes the opportunity because “she’s cute.”

For Sebastian, 10, the experience is also all about the dogs.

“I like it… cuz they’re like so adorable and cute and you get to read with them,” he said.

Youth services librarian Ginny Aho said Dog Tales launched at the Semiahmoo Library a year ago, and has become so popular, there are days when not all of the young readers who turn out can be accommodated.

“We never know for sure how many kids we’re going to have,” Aho said. “We have had to turn people away sometimes.”

The program is also offered at the Newton, Cloverdale and Guildford branches.

Carrie O’Sullivan has participated at Semiahmoo Library with her six-year-old Maremma, Yuki, since the program started.

“I love doing it and she does, too,” O’Sullivan said.

The library is not the only place she and Yuki offer comfort. In fact, all four dogs who lend an ear at the library – standard poodle Bentley couldn’t make it Thursday – also have experience visiting with seniors in a hospital environment.

For more information on the Dog Tales program visit surreylibraries.ca or call 604-592-6900.